When we went out looking for Howey mansion, I had a half tank of gas, a broken GPS and a vague idea of where Howey in the hills was. After an hour and a half of driving, the house startled me with its presence and character. Rising out of the trees, over the stucco walls, was this moss, mold and vine covered pink castle known as the Howey mansion.
The Howey mansion was built on 15 acres by architect Katherine Cotheal Budd for William J Howey in 1925 at an modern inflated price of 3.8 million dollars. Howey, being a entrepreneur with a long list of successful business history from Illinois, came to Lake county area in 1916 and bought 60,000 acres of land and planted citrus groves in the area now known as Howey in hills (which was named for Mr. Howey.)
( Howey archives )
Howey lived in the Mediterranean style home with his family for 13 years before he died of a heart attack. After his death, his wife, Mary Grace Hastings, lived in the home until she died in 1981.
Marvel Zona bought the home for $400,000 in 1984. Mrs. Zona eventually lost the property in 2006 through a reverse of a reverse mortgage. To get the house out of litigation would cost upwards of $2 million dollars, not counting how much it would cost to restore the property to its former magnificence. The house has sat abandoned ever since. (Abandoned fl )
When we pulled up the outside was covered in no trespassing signs and notifications saying the property was being watched by the police. Next to the main drive was a little tree lined dirt road that appeared to be off the property. That’s where we decided to look first. Walking down this road we got a full 360 degree view of the property. There was a small pit that looked like it had been the site for a large party. There was broken glass and charred remains of furniture scattered along the lawn. Further down the road looping away from the property we found a marble mausoleum which housed the bodies of Mr. Howey, his wife, and his daughter (William J Howey )
Taking a few shots of the exterior of the 20 room home, we were about to call it quits when we saw a car parked in the driveway. Figuring we had nothing to lose and an hour and a half of regret ahead of us, we walked up to the front door to ask if we could look around. Fortunately enough there was a woman inside who said she was preparing the home for a community “kick-starter” event to raise money for the restoration and was more than happy to let us look around for a few minutes.
I sipped those few minutes like they were the sweetest wine I’d ever tasted.
I must have looked silly, wearing that shit eating grin, walking around the house.
The doorway was made of stained glass made to look like the plumage of a peacock and opened up into a foray of solid stone walls, a sprawling spiral staircase and a study underneath the stairs.
The archway under the stairs had a two doors, one that was obviously a door and another that appeared to be more of façade wall that opened up into another spiral staircase leading down to a safe room. The room had a safe door that was taller and wider than I that looked like it popped out of the 1920’s. The room inside can’t be described as simply a room to keep valuables. It was easily the size of my apartment and lined with shelves. In the middle of the room sat a table and couple of chairs, like there were several games of poker played down there over family treasure. Back at the top, into the study, was a bookshelf that had a lever that opened up the hidden door (Hidden doors…check. Mausoleum in the back…check. Scooby-doo gang…Still waiting.)
To the left of the staircase was this marvelous ballroom that held the physical beauty and nuances of music. From the the wind playing with the sheer blinds to the richness of the wood. I needed to go on a diet from from staring.
Half way up the spiral staircase was another round room that had a dumbwaiter and a staircase down to the kitchen. The only memento left in the room was a potted plant
The back garden had a small koi pond (sans koi) and a two story large guest house. Heading back into the house through a very classic Florida room we found ourselves back in the ballroom.
That was a brief look at the Howey mansion. There will be a Part 2 in a couple of weeks so stay tuned. 🙂